The best books on the best places you have never been to

Who am I?

I have a life-long interest in the intersection of the real and the mythical when it comes to travel and adventuring in foreign lands. This has driven my own exploration of many parts of Asia and the Himalayan regions. One tiny nugget of information can take you on a wild journey that leads to great discoveries. Curiously, we keep losing precious knowledge through war and neglect—and then re-discover it. The finest example of lost and found cultural facets has to be hieroglyphics. The meaning of the writing was lost for over a thousand years until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, which enabled us to decipher Egyptian temple art again. So hieroglyphics entered the realm of the mythical and then returned to reality once decoded.


I wrote...

Shangri-La: A Travel Guide to the Himalayan Dream

By Michael Buckley,

Book cover of Shangri-La: A Travel Guide to the Himalayan Dream

What is my book about?

Shangri-La is one of the most evocative myths of our time —so powerful that it has entered the dictionary as a synonym for paradise. As myths go, it is a young one: Shangri-La made its debut with the 1933 publication of British author James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon. No sooner was Shangri-La created by Hilton than a host of places staked claims to being the real location that inspired the book. Maybe something to do with finding the Fountain of Youth, as Shangri-La residents live to over 200 years old.

This guidebook to the mythical site of Shangri-La is rooted in the glorious reality of the Himalayas, encompassing parts of southwest China, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, and Ladakh. It forms a concise guide to the most remote areas of the region, with a focus on major mountain peaks, and some well-chosen treks in each area. Practical information and maps will ensure that visitors can make the most of their trip to this other-worldly destination, while armchair readers can browse and dream...

The books I picked & why

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The Way To Shambhala

By Edwin Bernbaum,

Book cover of The Way To Shambhala

Why this book?

It is eminently possible that author James Hilton modelled his Shangri-La hideaway on the Tibetan realm of Shambhala. The two fabled realms share a lot in common. There are several Tibetan versions of the legend of Shambhala, but they run in the same pattern. Somewhere to the north of India is a kingdom ringed by impenetrable snowcapped mountains. In this sanctuary, poverty, hunger, crime, and sickness are unknown, and people live a hundred years. In the city of Kalapa, there is a glittering palace where sacred teachings are kept.

In a future several hundred years from now, the world will erupt in chaotic warfare. When the last barbarian thinks he has conquered the world, the king of Shambhala will ride forth and destroy the forces of evil—and establish a new Golden Age. The legend first appeared in India and later travelled to Tibet. Tibetan guidebooks written In centuries past pointed the way to Shambhala, but were short on practical details and long on talk of obstacles on the epic journey. Edwin Bernbaum provides an English guide of sorts. The best explanation is that you can find Shambhala in your dreams: some Tibetans claim Shambhala can only be accessed in another (hidden) dimension.

The Way To Shambhala

By Edwin Bernbaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Way To Shambhala as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Investigates the myth of Shambhala, a Tibetan kingdom surrounded by mountains, where Buddhist priests preserve the best of art, literature, and science against a time when war will destroy the world


Utopia

By Thomas More,

Book cover of Utopia

Why this book?

Utopia was first published in Latin in London (UK) in 1516. This slim tome has stood the test of time—after 500 years, it is still in print. The book depicts a fictional idyllic island society and its religious, social, and political customs. Many aspects of More's description of Utopia are reminiscent of life in monasteries. Whether intended as a socio-political satire or not, the book weathered all storms, but More himself did not. He was at loggerheads with Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church, and was executed for treason in London in 1535. The first English translation of Utopia appeared in 1551.

Utopia derives from two Greek words, meaning ‘No Place’. So you will not find it on any map. However, as Oscar Wilde explains: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

Utopia

By Thomas More,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Utopia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in Latin in 1516, Utopia was the work of Sir Thomas More (1477–1535), the brilliant humanist, scholar, and churchman executed by Henry VIII for his refusal to accept the king as the supreme head of the Church of England.
In this work, which gave its name to the whole genre of books and movements hypothesizing an ideal society, More envisioned a patriarchal island kingdom that practiced religious tolerance, in which everybody worked, no one has more than his fellows, all goods were community-owned, and violence, bloodshed, and vice nonexistent. Based to some extent on the writings of Plato…


The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History's Greatest Mystery Revealed

By Gavin Menzies,

Book cover of The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History's Greatest Mystery Revealed

Why this book?

Atlantis is another fabled island-nation, with a history that goes back much further in time than Utopia. The powerful island-nation is mentioned by Greek philosopher Plato as an antagonist to mighty Athens. There are a handful of theories about whether Atlantis ever existed (some claim Plato made it all up). If it did exist, what was the location before it sank below the waves?

Gavin Menzies takes up one of the real location theories in this fascinating book: that Atlantis was part of the advanced Minoan civilisation that extended from its Mediterranean base on Crete to locations much further afield. Since this all took place three millenniums ago, hard to prove anything, although Gavin Menzies tries his best with unearthed artifacts and DNA evidence to persuade the reader as to the veracity of his findings. Perhaps you should read this tale with a pinch of salt? It is about a fabled island that disappeared into the ocean, after all.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History's Greatest Mystery Revealed

By Gavin Menzies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lost Empire of Atlantis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling author of 1421: THE YEAR THE CHINESE DISCOVERED THE WORLD uncovers the truth behind the mystery of Atlantis.

After a chance conversation in Egypt in 2008, bestselling historian Gavin Menzies launched himself on a quest that would reveal the truth behind the mystery of Atlantis and her destruction.

Through an examination of documentary and academic research, metallurgy, ancient shipbuilding and navigation techniques, artefacts and DNA evidence, Menzies slowly and painstakingly reveals a trading empire that spanned from the Great Lakes in North America to Kerala in India. And in doing so finally explains the incredible reality behind the…


The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World

By Luciano Canfora, Martin Ryle (translator),

Book cover of The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World

Why this book?

The Ptolemaic kings of Egypt had a staggering ambition: to house all the books ever written under one roof, in the city of Alexandria. Parchments collected regardless of what the content of the books was, or which language the parchments were inscribed in. It was much more than a library: it was the world’s foremost research and scholarly institute at the time (around 2000 years ago) and was famed for its ground-breaking discoveries in fields of mathematics, the sciences, and many other forms of knowledge. But then the library burned down—and the fate of all those precious books has been a subject of much speculation.

The author, Professor Canfora, plays hard and fast with the facts—but then the ‘facts’ are scarce and murky. The book was published in 1990 and thus misses a very important chapter: in 2002, a fantastic modern Library of Alexandria was resurrected as a wonderful circular glass-covered building. However,  current Egyptian government politics is not nearly as generous in its approach to the acquisition of knowledge: the collection of books is censored to suit.

The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World

By Luciano Canfora, Martin Ryle (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vanished Library as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recreates the world of ancient Egypt, describes how the Library of Alexandria was created, and speculates on its destruction.


Persepolis: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Persian Empire's Capital City

By Charles River Editors,

Book cover of Persepolis: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Persian Empire's Capital City

Why this book?

The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, or at least named in his honour. And Alexander the Great is responsible for wiping out other fabled cities. Most notably, the ancient Persian city of Persepolis, located in modern-day Iran. Finally, a place you can actually visit! But the massive palace lies in ruins, nowhere near its original splendour with all the statuary and furnishings, and the pomp and majesty of Persia’s kings and courtiers—at the time when Persia was a global superpower.

Around 2,000 years ago, Alexander the Great’s troops looted Persepolis and burned it to the ground. And there it lay in the sand, forgotten, until the site was revived in the 1930s and somewhat restored. The site lies in southwest Iran and was inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1979.  Given that travel to Iran today is fraught with obstacles, this book about Persepolis could still be left in the domain of armchair reading.

Persepolis: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Persian Empire's Capital City

By Charles River Editors,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Persepolis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Includes pictures *Includes ancient historians' descriptions of Persepolis and the Persians *Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading “By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I got into my possession along with this Persian people, which felt fear of me and bore me tribute : Elam, Media, Babylonia, Arabia, Assyria, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Lydia, the Greeks who are of the mainland and those who are by the sea, and countries which are across the sea, Sagartia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Bactria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, Hinduš, Gandara, Sacae, Maka.” – An inscription on a terrace wall…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in utopian, Atlantis, and libraries?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about utopian, Atlantis, and libraries.

Utopian Explore 42 books about utopian
Atlantis Explore 11 books about Atlantis
Libraries Explore 40 books about libraries

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Utopian Thought in the Western World, Ta T’ung Shu, and The Dispossessed if you like this list.